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How To Curb Childhood Obesity In Indiana

Schools and government agencies in the state are creating more programs to help children live healthier lifestyles.

A national study released last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association found the obesity rates in children between the ages of two and five decreased by 40 percent.

Officials consider this a significant accomplishment, but recognize there is still a lot of progress that needs to be made in the childhood obesity epidemic.

CDC data shows that 17 percent of children over the age of five are considered obese, a number that hasn’t changed much in the last decade.

In Indiana, childhood obesity is being combated in schools, daycares, homes and the community.

School Cafeterias

Hattie Johnson, Director of Nutrition for the Monroe County Community School Corporation, says school cafeterias are tackling the nutrition issue by adhering to or staying ahead of federally set guidelines.

The “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act” in 2010 produced sweeping changes for requirements in school cafeterias.

“With that process, we ended up reducing portion sizes, increasing fruits and veggies, lowering fat and we’re on the track to lower sodium further by 2016,” Johnson says.

By July, all grains offered in public school cafeterias must contain 100 percent whole grain. Johnson says MCCSC schools are already serving grains that are 90 percent whole grain, even though the current guideline is 50 percent. She says they also stopped selling whole and two percent milk before they were required to remove those drinks.

Johnson says school cafeterias offer foods in compliance with The Food Guide Pyramid which promotes meals that include five food groups: grains, protein, fruits, vegetables and dairy.

Students have the opportunity to choose foods within these categories to make a full meal, based on the serving size guidelines for each age group.

All components of the meal are included in one flat rate and snacks such as chips or sugary drinks are considered a la carte.

Even the pizza that Bloomington North and Bloomington South High Schools serve from their contract with Aver’s Pizza meets these guidelines.

The restaurant makes a special crust that aligns with the grain requirements.

“When you open the box, when you look at it, you think Aver’s. When you taste it, you actually still think Aver’s,” Johnson says. “But we know as we crunch our nutritionals and look at recipes that we really are offering the students a much healthier product than if we had continued to do what we were doing in the past.”

Early Childhood

High school students have more opportunities to choose what they are going to eat and sometimes they turn to what is convenient and eat unhealthy options.

Lisa Henley and Kim Rule of the Indiana Healthy Weight Initiative say this is why it is important to establish good eating habits at an early age.

Henley says it may take up to 15 times for a child to try and enjoy something that has been offered to them.

If they are offered different options, Rule says, they can ultimately learn to make healthy choices.

It is important for them to make these choices at a young age because if a child is obese between the ages of 2 and 5, they are 5 times more likely to be obese as adults, she says.

“At first it may be a change for them and it might take 15 times to try it, but they do learn to develop those choices,” Rule says.

Another valuable factor in developing healthy eating habits is participating in family-style meals, Henley says. When children are given control over pouring their own drinks and serving their food, they are more likely to try different things.

“What we should be saying as parents and caregivers is ‘this is when we’re going to eat and this is what I’m going to offer you.’ It’s up to the child, though, whether they are going to choose to eat it,” Henley says.

Fortunately, Rule says, children today are developing healthier habits because their schools and childcare programs must follow stricter guidelines.

“A lot of children between the ages of two and five are in childcare programs and children that are in childcare programs are being affected by some nutritional standards that have changed for childcare, coming down from the USDA,” Rule says.

In the Home

The “clean your plate” mentality has been enforced in American homes for multiple generations. Parents tell their kids they can’t leave the table until they finish their meal – which may lead to poor eating habits.

Johnson says the portion size that the average person would think is reasonable is actually two to three times larger than it should be.

“If you make your child’s plate and you’ve got all this food that might be appropriate for a couple people and tell them to clean it, it’s like you’re setting that child up on the track to ultimately being obese,” Johnson says.

She says that concept could work better if parents prepare the meals with their child and offer them different foods to try. Then, allow the child to choose the type and amount of food that they are actually going to be able to finish.

Henley says it is important for parents to set good examples by cooking nutritionally and making good decisions, both in terms of healthy eating and activity level.

Physical Activity

While nutrition is an important component to a healthy lifestyle, physical activity is also essential.

Rule says it is important for parents, caregivers and educators to recognize the risk factors for obesity, including the amount of time children spend watching television.

Daisy Chew, program director for Girls Inc., says they offer learning leagues in volleyball and basketball for girls ranging in age from 6 through high school. They also have motor skill development programs for young girls and partner with Hoosier CrossFit to host CrossFit for Kids during summer programs.

“It’s wonderful because it’s promoting a healthy body image. It’s this mentality of ‘Wow, I can do something I never thought I would be able to do’ and of course it’s a free range of motion for our kids,” Chew says.

Chew encourages parents to enroll their children in youth programs such as Girls Inc, Boys and Girls Club or the YMCA to stay active and healthy and learn new things at the same time.

You can listen to the full conversation above.


Hattie Johnson –

Director of Nutrition for the Monroe County Community School Corporation

Daisy Chew – 

Program Director of Girls Inc., a nonprofit organization that focuses on giving confidence to girls

Lisa Henley – 

From the Indiana Healthy Weight Initiative, which strives to enhance the health of Hoosiers by promoting good nutrition, physical activity and healthy weight

Kim Rule – 

Project Coordinator of “Taking Steps to Healthy Success” from the Indiana Healthy Weight Initiative

You can ask your questions by joining our live chat at WFIU.ORG/NoonEdition, following us on Twitter @NoonEdition or calling into the program at 812-855-0811.

Noon Edition airs Friday at 12:06.

Lacy Scarmana contributed to this report.

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